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Preparing Teachers for a Civil Society

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Peter Reynolds,

Edith Cowan University

December 2002


 To prepare teachers for a civil society is to prepare for something more comprehensive than civics and citizenship but certainly including these. A civil society embraces a liberal, democratic and constitutional polity but also a complementary network of voluntary associations dealing with all aspects of life, with membership open to all society members. Active citizenship cannot really be imagined without reference to the overall societal framework of State and non-State organisations.

 These societal attributes are not innate in individuals and must be taught afresh to each generation. The attributes include knowledge, skills and values and, as such, require a curriculum and a learning methodology.

 The preparation of teachers cannot be considered without the curricula that they will be required to teach. As professionals, they are expected to design, implement and evaluate curricula. The first and third of these tasks should be done in consultation with as comprehensive a range of stakeholders as possible. Only then can we talk about converting ‘State’ and ‘independent’ schooling into ‘public’ schooling.

 Educational strategic planning and quality assurance require full community consultation in the development and evaluation of a curriculum. Since 1989, the Australian and Western Australian communities have experienced a great deal of change and development in the area of curriculum and schooling, leading to the Western Australian Curriculum Council Act 1997 and a new Western Australian School Education Act 1999. From these have emerged new ‘learning areas’, which include civics and citizenship education, and the decentralisation of decision making in schools but also, with the essential (but initially only a potential) development of school councils, comprised of representatives of government, teachers, parents and other community stakeholders.

 The Curriculum Framework for Kindergarten to Year 12 Education in Western Australia (1998) is complemented with a statement of the shared core values of Australian society, which includes civic and citizenship-related values. These represent the first-ever explicit statement of core values to be developed within and through the public education system, and are to be developed in all sectors of schooling and monitored by the Curriculum Council.


The history of the development of the area of civics and citizenship education is a constitutional case study of how the Federal Government can influence the specific outcomes of schooling systems which are constitutionally the province of the States.

 Separate initiatives from the Senate and later the Prime Minister have led to a focus on civics and citizenship education out of all proportion to its place in the State’s curriculum framework.

The allocation of over $30 millions for the production of teaching resources and the professional development of teachers in this area has continued despite the change of the Federal Government in 1996. The Discovering Democracy project has now entered its second four-year period and there are indications that there will be nationwide assessments of achievement at upper primary and middle secondary levels at the end of this period.

 Once the curricular goals have been determined, planning requires the selection and professional preparation of teachers who are to implement the curriculum. It would be sensible to determine what knowledge and skills teachers should have to achieve the goals and then design teacher education courses to ensure these are developed. As well as determining where the preservice teachers are at, it is also important to determine where the school students are at in their perception of citizenship. Research evidence on these matters is presented and analysed to indicate that the community is faced with a challenge of major proportions.


Finally, an analysis of what is happening in preservice teacher education suggests that the challenge and its implications are not receiving the priority they deserve in the universities.

 There are six assessments from the investigation:

·         If the community wants civics and citizenship education to be taught and taught effectively, then a compulsory core unit, combining essential content and appropriate professional strategies, must be included in preservice teacher education for all intending teachers at all levels. Graduates without such a unit should not be employed after a set date.

·         The importance of knowledge about the development and nature of the State and civil society should be recognised. Students can be enthused by sound teaching by teachers well qualified in relevant subject matter and with appropriate professional skills.

·         Active citizenship behavioural outcomes can be achieved by the development of self-governing voluntary associations within schools of teacher education and in primary and secondary schools and, when appropriate, linked to and supported by existing associations in the wider community.

·         Teaching has to be seen as a partnership with the family in the maintenance and development of community and society. Individuality and individual rights and responsibilities can only be developed when the full nature of society and culture are appreciated and incorporated into the processes of schooling.

·         Schools of teacher education must prepare teachers to work with the monitoring role of the WA Curriculum Council and to work for and with the school councils to ensure that we have a truly public schooling system.  

·         More research and documentation needs to be undertaken into the large range of nongovernmental and voluntary associations, clubs and societies and their members who together constitute the civil society and provide the rich texture of social and cultural citizenship of Australia.


Acknowledgement of Country

The Government of Western Australia acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.